The Fall and Rise of IBM Power

The Fall and Rise of IBM Power

What does the future hold for IBM's Power processor line? Two words: Big Data.

While there’s no doubt that IBM (IBM) Power processors are some of the fastest around, semiconductor economics have been working against them for some time. Once upon a time IBM sold Power processors for use in gaming consoles made by Sony. But when that deal ended, IBM had a significant challenge on its hands in being able to compete with Intel (INTC).

To address that problem IBM created an OpenPower Consortium, under which a number of companies agreed to build processors and help create products based on IBM Power processor designs. Most notable among those companies is Google, which builds its own servers using both x86 and now Power8 processors.

A few months later, IBM announced it was investing $1 billion to drum up demand for Linux on IBM Power Series servers and, not too long later, announced that the Ubuntu distribution of Linux created by Canonical is now available on IBM Power systems alongside Suse and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). And, most recently, SAP and IBM announced that the HANA in-memory computing platform is now being tested on IBM Power systems in addition to running x86 servers based on Intel processors.

Power processors won’t be replacing x86 processors en masse anytime soon. But the fact that IBM has a little momentum behind IBM Power Processor is critical. After all, the IBM Watson supercomputer is based on IBM Power processors.

The question now is what the Asian manufacturer members of the OpenPower Consortium intend to do with IBM Power processors. Clearly, they have the manufacturing muscle needed to keep IBM Power processors reasonably cost competitive with Intel x86 processors. In fact, the new IBM Power8 server lineup not only is price competitive with Intel x86 servers, the total cost of managing a Power8 server is much less because many of the management functions inside the server are automated.

All this matters to solution providers looking to sell IBM Power servers, which are especially well-suited to running Big Data analytics applications at a higher margin. Power series processors make use of advanced multi-threaded architecture that drives database performance better than a traditional x86 server. In a world where every solution provider is selling an x86 server, the IBM Power Series offers solution providers a way to potentially differentiate their offerings.

The challenge, of course, is that with IBM’s decision to sell its x86 server business to Lenovo, there’s a lot of questions about the company’s commitment to the Power Series. While IBM clearly has a lot riding on Power because of Watson, the good news from a channel partner perspective is in the not-too-distant future there should be other sources for servers based on IBM Power processors other than IBM.

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